Los Angeles Dodgers

Appreciating the underappreciated Hyun-Jin Ryu

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Chicago, on Thursday, April 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)
AP Photo/Jeff Haynes

About five years ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed an international player to a multiyear contract. That player burst onto the scene in 2013 and helped power the Dodgers to an NL West title and played himself into a top-five finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

That player was not Yasiel Puig. Well, it was. But the Dodgers were actually seeing double in the above scenario: Hyun-Jin Ryu also made his presence known that rookie season of 2013 and finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year poll, two spots behind his teammate Puig.

Regardless, that put Ryu on the map and the Dodgers haven’t lost the division since he signed in L.A. After a very strong rookie season that saw Ryu amass a 3.00 ERA in 30 starts, he put up an even better sophomore season (by some measures), posting a 3.38 ERA in 26 starts while besting his career bests in WHIP, FIP, K/9 and K:BB.

Then the trouble began. In 2015 and 2016, Ryu combined to make one start, which was a disaster (6 ER in 4.2 IP). Shoulder issues plagued him, and many thought his career as a Dodger — in the big leagues, really — was over.

Ryu fully recovered and finally made a healthy return to the rotation early in 2017, and he has been an amazing comeback story ever since. Though Ryu struggled a bit out of the gate, he has recovered to secure a spot in a crowded, competitive rotation. After one strong relief outing, Ryu has been absolutely on fire, and good thing. He and Kenta Maeda are basically pitching for their lives every time out, and the competition is stiff.

With the incomparable Clayton Kershaw returning soon, Yu Darvish and Alex Wood banged up but dominant, and Rich Hill back to his old co-ace self, there’s really room for only two pitchers among the Ryu-Maeda-Brandon McCarthy trio.

What has Ryu done to earn his spot in that mix? Only given up six earned runs in six6 second-half starts, to the tune of a 1.54 ERA over 35 innings. His WHIP in that time span is a measly 1.06. He has allowed an opponents’ OPS of .547. And the Dodgers have won all six of those starts.

Ryu’s value, especially lately, to the Dodgers cannot be talked up enough. He has returned from devastating injuries to not only pitch in the rotation for the league’s best team, but he has seemed to get stronger. He’s excelling at levels unseen since 2014. And the Dodgers are being rewarded for his hard work and their patience.

The best stretch of Ryu’s season came in back-to-back starts against the Giants and Mets in late July and early August. In each start, he went seven innings and gave up a combined six hits (only one against the Mets), no runs and one walk. He also managed to ring up 15 batters in the two games.

Overall, Ryu has quietly put together a solid season as the Dodgers’ No. 6 (or 7, depending on who you ask) starter: a 3.34 ERA in 19 starts (and one relief appearance, in which he earned a save) and a career-high 125 ERA+. He’s one of the many reasons the Dodgers have run away with the NL West and separated themselves from the other 29 teams in baseball.

Signed through 2018 at just $6 million per year, the Dodgers have found a bargain in their own system. Ryu, formerly an afterthought, has reason to be discussed — and appreciated.

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